Irish Rail is to start issuing fines for anti-social behaviour and drinking to curb gangs of young people who have been involved in violent incidents along the Dart line and the villages it serves.
Security is also being ramped up on trains and in stations, and CCTV is being set up in Malahide, as local residents say public drinking and the abuse of unmanned Dart stations by some young people is making life a misery.
Scenic seaside towns like Howth and Malahide are a massive attraction to people during sunny weather, but phone footage of violent incidents in the towns and Dart stations near them have shone a light on the scourge of anti-social teenagers.
It comes as gardaí are investigating an incident in Connolly train station on Friday evening after which a man required hospital treatment. A video of the incident on a platform of the station shows two men fighting with a third man, who almost falls under a moving train. The man is left injured and the other two men leave the scene.
Gardaí confirmed they found a man in his 30s who had suffered injuries as a result of the incident. He was taken to hospital for treatment. No arrests have yet been made but gardaí confirmed investigations were ongoing.
In recent weeks, video footage of a frightened youth trying to take refuge from attack by standing on a car outside Malahide Dart station, groups of youths fighting on the pier in Howth, and a young woman falling under a train at a Dart station after a teenager aimed a kick at her head, have all gone viral and residents were concerned that this bank holiday weekend could see more trouble.
In an incident last Monday, ambulance personnel and gardaí who were called to the scene of a violent attack on a 14-year-old boy at Kilbarrack Dart station came under attack.
That fight happened less than an hour after a 16-year-old boy fell from Howth pier onto rocks in the course of a fight involving large groups of youths.
While anti-social behaviour is an ongoing problem in many towns and suburbs, the school holidays, summer sunshine, and convenience of the Dart make it especially problematic in areas like Howth and Malahide.
At a recent meeting of Malahide Community Forum, residents expressed their concerns.
Garda Inspector Dermot McKenna said it was not an offence for groups of youths to come to Malahide, and gardaí could not do anything unless an offence was committed.
He said Garda powers were limited, and they hoped their visibility would turn troublemakers away. But he added that people buying trays of drinks from off-licences was a problem and likely to lead to anti-social behaviour.
The use of the Dart as a transport link for troublemakers also came up, and Inspector McKenna said gardaí have an excellent relationship with Irish Rail.
He said they assist gardaí by phoning ahead if groups of youths are on the train, but stressed that these incidents can involve youths from any area.
In reaction to anti-social behaviour in the area, Fingal County Council is erecting CCTV in the Malahide and Swords districts which will be visible on screens in the local garda stations.
In Howth, community groups say public drinking of take-away drinks from pubs and trays of alcohol from off-licences, combined with easy access to the Dart line at unmanned stations, are a large contributor to the trouble.
“There are teenagers just riding the Dart line, hopping on and off at random and jumping over turnstiles at unmanned stations,” said one community spokesperson in Howth.
“There needs to be better policing on the trains and in the stations. Our community will be meeting with local gardaí over it. There is a huge issue with take-away drinking. We’re seeing young people queuing up with no regard to social distancing, and they are just going where they want with this drink. Where is the Department of Justice and the gardaí on this?” they asked.
The ‘take-away pint’ has become a pandemic phenomenon, but with it come legal grey areas regarding enforcement. In the days before Covid you wouldn’t see someone in a public green or on a beach drinking a pint, but with the closure of so-called ‘wet pubs’ the idea of the take-away pint has seen such behaviour become more common.
A Garda spokesman said there was no legal impediment on a pub selling ‘poured drinks’ on a take-away basis, so this Covid phenomenon was lawful.
“The sale of take-away alcohol is covered in primary legislation, and restricts the consumption of that product within 100 metres of the premises. However in the absence of any requirement for personalised and identifying markings on disposable take-away or other containers, proving a breach is difficult,” he said.
“Local authority bye-laws have been passed in many local authority areas that can restrict the alcohol consumption in public spaces in general terms, and the management of local public spaces is primarily a matter for the relevant local authority.”
“Where crowds gather, An Garda Síochána’s responsibility is preserving public order and preventing and investigating any criminal offence which occurs,” he added.
In response to violence at train stations and complaints about large numbers of teenagers behaving badly, Irish Rail is beefing up security and extending fines for fare evasion to other sorts of activity, such as anti-social behaviour and drinking.
“We have a security firm who carry out 20 patrols a day, some are fixed in stations and others are mobile and travel the network,” said Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny. “We also have a security hub monitoring CCTV cameras of the network and the stations and will continue to link up with gardaí.”
It is understood particular focus will be on stations where trouble has flared in recent times, including Howth Junction and Kilbarrack.
“The warm weather will always bring people to the coast. And while there can be an element of anti-social activity associated with that, it seems to have happened earlier this year,” said Mr Kenny.
“Maybe that’s because of the pandemic restrictions, or the lack of alternative venues that would usually be open for young people, and alcohol consumption is intrinsically entwined with anti-social behaviour.
“So we will be extending our fines to include anti-social behaviour and carrying alcohol. It is a direct financial penalty that does not have to involve gardaí.”